My immediate response to that Boris Johnson speech was probably much like many of you – bewilderment, much disagreement, and a lingering question about where such an extreme statement of intent takes one of our major political parties over the long run.
Not to mention the implications for some of Boris’s subjects – those who will certainly not be getting knighthoods for proving that ‘greed is good’, but who sit at the other end of the economic pile in a city of such stark contrasts.
We were proud to host very different a speech in September from Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who used the opportunity to set out the case for a new approach to addressing poverty and social exclusion. Her call was for a new social and economic settlement between the sectors, and a new generation of public services that better reflect the contemporary risks faced in society. The steady drip drip of new statistics on poverty, low pay, wage stagnation and – via Alan Milburn’s recent commission report – social mobility, only serve to strengthen her argument that without change in roles and responsibilities across the sectors, we will continue to fail those already at the sharp end of society.
Julia’s speech points to some radical, long-term shifts in policy and practice, working across sector boundaries to target the drivers of poverty and inequality. It begins to shift from analysis and diagnosis, to a set of principles for change. Yet questions remain: what would a roadmap look like that would take us there? What are the first steps for public agencies and those people responsible for leading and enacting change? Why is collaboration so important, and how can it be made to work and be accountable in practice?
They certainly won’t hit the headlines like London’s mayor can, but here are my four priorities for tomorrow’s public leaders:
1. Understand what connects – and what isolates- communities:
We need to get better at understanding the real drivers of poverty and inequality in a new context. As academics such as Peter Taylor-Gooby and John Hills have shown, the social and economic risks we face have quite dramatically shifted since Beveridge set out his original template for the welfare state. New evidence presents a complex picture: JRF research suggests that around 50% of poor families have a working family memberin some parts of the UK. The Resolution Foundation estimate that families on low-to-mid incomes will be worse off in 2020 than they are today. In sharp contrast often to misleading media headlines, we know for example that a substantial proportion of benefit recipients are already in work. Unemployment and social isolation reinforce each other. Around 70-80% of jobs are never advertised, meaning that those with poor social networks are increasingly isolated from the labour market.
These are issues that cannot be done justice by cheap headlines. They are intrinsically complex and cross-sector. If we are to meet them with a similarly nuanced set of solutions (that share a risk and responsibility across those sectors), we need better insight – not just about how we provide services today, but about the needs, assets, resources and aspirations of the people these services should exist to serve.
2. Co-design outcomes, and address them with integrated responses.
The corollary of good insight is the responsibility to use it well. This means a process of co-designing outcomes with the people for whom they matter, developing an account of how these outcomes are prioritised and interrelated, then building integrated services that can be held to account by the communities that receive them. This has to be the best way to generate long term efficiencies or savings – in contrast to the shifting of demand across to different services or points in the cycle, as NHS acute providers, the police or adult social care commissioners might well argue is currently the case. As Collaborate programmes on social value and risk are currently exploring, there are good example of this already in practice. Social enterprise Turning Point’s model of connected care is based on integrated local services that are designed by communities. Community budget pilots are trialling similar methodologies across the country (picking up lessons from the Total Place pilots that foreran them). Lambeth’s ‘co-operative council’ programme is beginning to re-think the role of the council on this basis – opening up commissioning processes to the community and looking to get ‘beyond the services’.
3. Develop public service partnerships that share risk and focus on outcomes
Delivering against complex or multiple outcomes is not necessarily something that requires multiple providers, but this is often the case. Increasingly, the private and social sectors are engaged in delivering against outcomes set by government, in delivery chains defined by prime-and-sub contracting and competitive tendering principles. Our forthcoming research indicates that these programmes are driven to a large extent by controlling cost and shifting risk; but that – without careful attention – the implications and risks of this approach can be shifted down to communities. It is vitally important that, in this context, organisations across the chain feel able to collaborate as well as compete; and commissioners feel able to make decisions to shape markets to the benefit of communities. We explore the means to do this in a forthcoming report with the Institute for Government.
4. Start a new dialogue about future public goods
Our overarching aim should be a new strategic agenda for public services – based on a re-evaluation of the notions of public good and social value, and a re-alignment of resources around it. As Collaborate’s chair Victor Adebowale has argued, we need to talk about ‘services to the public’ because focusing on ‘public services’ can be limiting. It narrows the debate to traditional services, predetermines roles and responsibilities, and ignores the capacity and responsibility of others to contribute to social goals. Public services must be judged partly by the extent to which they embody these concepts (especially at a time of squeezed budgets). Yet the same should also be asked about other key players in the public sphere. For example, addressing the cost of food, energy, transport and housing – all key drivers of debt and poverty – is not something that can be done without working across sectors and sharing responsibility. It requires business to care about social outcomes. It requires social partners to think creatively. It requires the public sector to look at its role and influence outside of the services directly in its purview.
The nature of social risk is changing, and we need a new form of collective action to address it. The private sector must begin accounting for – and positively changing – its social impact and purpose. The public sector must reform around the principle of citizen-centric, bottom up collaboration. The social sector must find ways to deepen the relationships with communities that will enable this, within a changing social and economic context. We need to recognise that, not only are these tasks not easy, they require a different set of cultures, behaviours and leadership qualities. All speeches aside, time to start thinking differently.